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Human Rights Advocates Urge Kenya to Stop Demolishing Shantytowns - 2004-03-01

Human rights advocates are calling on the Kenyan government to stop demolishing shantytowns in the capital until it has worked out a plan to relocate the inhabitants.

This was the week the Kenyan government was to bulldoze homes and businesses in the poorest sections of Nairobi. But President Mwai Kibaki intervened in the last minute and stopped the demolition until the government finds a way to relocate the residents.

The human rights coordinator at Christ the King Church in Kibera, Christine Bodewes, said the demolition would have had a devastating effect on one of Nairobi's largest shantytowns called Kibera. "For example, there are 10 schools on the rail line in Kibera. There is a VCT/AIDS testing center, there's an Anglican church. None of those people had notice until three days ago. When you look at the schools, you're talking about 10 schools with 200 pupils apiece - over 1,000 kids, nowhere to go, a few days' notice, which is unacceptable," she said. VCT refers to voluntary counseling and testing.

Human Rights Watch says more than 500,000 people would become homeless in Nairobi if the government goes ahead with the demolitions. Most of the people living in the so called informal settlements earn less than a dollar a day and have little or no access to water, electricity, and toilets.

The demolition of businesses and homes too close to roads, wires and rails is part of the government's solution to the unplanned, informal, and mostly illegal construction of shantytowns in the capital.

Ms. Bodewes says, before carrying out the demolition, the government should sit down with the city council, non-government groups, churches and urban planners to draw up what she calls a comprehensive resettlement plan.

A research fellow at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, Preston Chitere, blames the government and the Nairobi City Council for shirking their responsibility for urban planning and allowing private developers to control construction in the city. "Because of corruption and illegal allocation of land, and land grabbing, etc., the situation just got out of hand. If you go to some estates, you find that even areas that were reserved for public utilities were actually illegally allocated or grabbed," he said.

He said the shantytowns sprung up mainly because a growing number of the poor could not find affordable housing.